Luscious blues, quirky glasses and whimsical patterns are stylist Angela Solouki's building blocks. An unanticipated layer of comedy discovered through fashionable poetry at the cliffs of Marcus’ vibrant hometown. The get up compares to his acting style - it's full and out there but can be toned down, if necessary, by the simple departure of an element, and in his case, humour. Marcus reports to us as grown young man, with lingering ties to a playful boy who stepped aside a while back to welcome adulthood. But, this boy may never be overlooked.
In addition to his celebrated work on ‘Blackish’, Marcus voiced the dinosaur Buck on the Golden Globe-nominated animation 'The Good Dinosaur', opposite Frances McDormand and Jeffrey Wright. Having reached the ripe age of 18, with now long limbs and a deep-set voice, he has interesting prospects for the future. There are acting projects in the works, including a feature, 'Confessional', which is in post-production, and he is looking to produce his own written work. Being part of a project that has been a catalyst for change and diversity, Marcus' continuing journey is something to watch.
What was it like growing up in LA?
I’m from the mid-city area, near downtown. It’s fire. We’ve got the best of every world: it’s always sunny. A lot of people who come from out of town don’t get to experience the real Los Angeles and end up going to Hollywood - big mistake. That’s like living in Times Square. There is so much to experience, and for instance, I love Mexican food. California has some of the best Mexican food in the country.
What’s your favourite Mexican dish?
I enjoy Americanized Mexican food - Tex-Mex style. There is a place in Glendale called Barragen’s that has seafood quesadillas: crab, fish and shrimp with a bunch of cheese and guacamole. It’s really good.
Are you a bit of a foodie?
Yes, I love food. I don’t know if I can consider myself a foodie, because I don’t know if I can tap into the intricacies of food. I believe that a lot of foodies are into exquisite cuisines. I’m more basic.
I think you can still call yourself a foodie.
Yes, I guess it’s a different realm of foodie-ness.
Exactly, you don’t need to necessarily be eating fish from the deepest part of the ocean.
Marianas trench or something…
When the acting mask is off, who is Marcus?
Marcus is someone who enjoys acting, I mean - you’ve got enjoy it to endure. I don’t think most people know how much work goes into it. I was acting for seven years before I even booked 'Blackish'. That was a lot of time, commitment and money from my parents and endurance for me going to auditions while still keeping up with homework. I love video games, which is similar to Andre Junior. Although, I think I’m way more laid-back than him. He is very tense and uptight, while I’m quite calm and I don’t really get heated up about things.
What makes you happy?
Delicious food. Just chilling and hanging out with my family. I love my dog - he makes me happy. Besides that, the positive impact our show is having on people across the country. We're starting conversations. One of my favourite things to do, acting, is a catalyst for change, which is amazing. We make the difficult topics more digestible through comedy. We’ve gotten a lot of positive outreach through Twitter and Instagram. That makes me happy.
I think it was pretty evident that 'Blackish' was going to be hit show when your character, Junior, walked into the kitchen in the first episode asking for a Bar Mitzvah.
That was quite a scene. It’s all based on Kenya (Barris) and Anthony’s lives, so that moment had actually happened to Anthony. Nathan, his son, had an actual Bro Mitzvah.
I’m pretty much hooked on this show - especially since Tracee Ellis Ross is on it. She is fantastic.
I love watching her act because she surely has a wild style: varied and a full set of emotions. A facial expression of hers can mean six different emotions. It’s a blast working with such talented actors and getting to learn from them for almost five years.
How did Tracee and Anthony influence you these past years?
I think it’s a lot of learning from watching: observing what they do and then replicating that. Acting is about applying real-life experiences to a character, and since this is a comedy, humour on top of that. Watching the beat-to-beat moments has definitely aided me, and also getting advice from Laurence Fishburn on being a child actor.
What’s it like growing up on television?
It was wild. I attended public school for most of my life, so going from that to homeschool always holds a negative stigma. Getting homeschooled is pretty interesting. It's crazy working with almost only adults. I’ve always enjoyed conversations with older people, so it wasn’t that hard getting adjusted. But it’s difficult not being surrounded by peers in a classroom setting.
How was the audition process for 'Blackish'?
It was quite long, I must have had six auditions and callbacks. It was definitely approaching each audition with knowing the intricacies and the unique situation you’re in. Doing research is very important. We knew whom the producer was and who was going to be casting the show and we knew that Anthony was going to be in the room. We just did some simple research, figuring out where they’re from and it turned out they were from Los Angeles. I was like; “Score!” In the acting world, there are not that many actors who are from Los Angeles originally. It was pretty cool to finally find someone who actually was, so I walked in there saying; “west side!” They started laughing, because it was so Junior - I wasn’t fully committed to it. They first asked me how my day was going, and I always think honesty is the best policy, so I just told them the truth; “Well, it wasn’t that great. Although, there were some benefits: we had taco Tuesday at school. I had a running day.” Preparing for the character was cool. Since it is a comedy show, I got to take it all out. My acting style is usually very over-the-top, but I can tone it down as well. It was fun to just let loose for this character.
I’m curious, do you follow scripts to the tee on the show or do you guys play with improv? The comedy is very organic.
I think we definitely try to set a tone of improv. Most of the time we are following the script, but after a scene is over, there is usually at least ten minutes of us improv-ing random stuff. If someone has a fun idea, we’ll try it in the middle of a take - although, it's a struggle not to break into laughter. There are so many hilarious people on set.
I can imagine you guys have a bunch of fun. Do you ever pull pranks on each other?
That is a thing. We do pull pranks on each other, often on Miles, the kid who plays my younger brother on the show. He is a huge LeBron James fan, so one time we told him that LeBron James had left the Cavaliers and was going to the Lakers. He was so upset. We eventually broke and told him the truth. There are a lot of prank situations. For instance, we eat each other’s food. If someone puts out a plate, it will be gone.
Sneaky. How do you think the success of 'Blackish' changed diversity and representation of minorities in Hollywood?
I think it has had an immense impact - now there is much more diversity. There are gay people, disabled children and all different sorts of minorities represented on television. When Black-ish first came on, it was definitely not like that. It was headed in that direction, but we were definitely a catalyst for this change. I feel there are a lot of shows out there that took inspiration from our concept of just being true to real life by opening up conversations.
What was your favourite episode to film?
My favourite episode was 'The Dozen'. In this episode, I roast a bunch of people. Junior is bullied at school, so his dad goes; “You’ve got to defend yourself.” He teaches him how to fight and roast people, so after that, Junior runs roasting everyone - even the kids bullying him.
You voiced the dinosaur Buck in the animation 'The Good Dinosaur', would you say preparing for a voice-over role is different from an on-screen character?
I’ve been doing a lot of voice-over work as of recently, but I wouldn’t say I’m as well versed as other voice-over actors. In my experience, the process is not so different. Albeit, in voice-over, you can make any type of face you want: you can furrow your brows. As long as your voice sounds the part, you can do whatever is necessary to get you there. Plus, you can roll up to stage in pyjamas, which is dope. It doesn’t matter what you look like.
'Confessional' is currently in post-production, could you tell us a bit about the plot and your character, Garrett?
It’s a college murder mystery where some students get murdered in college.
All of them haha?
No, not all of them!
Five minutes in – film is already over...
All of them are dead. No one's left. That is a Sundance film right there. I would have to get producing credits. Well, it’s a college murder mystery where some kids are murdered and then those with connections to the murdered are questioned. It’s difficult to say whether it is a murder or a suicide. The film is done in a confessional booth style of format.
That’s interesting. You began acting at a really young age, what made you get into acting in the first place?
I didn’t really have any hobbies, except I always had a love for literature -especially fantasy. My parents went; “Do you want to have a hobby?” and I said; “I guess so.” I played basketball and lacrosse for a bit and then I tried an acting class. My first class took place around Christmas, so everyone was handing out presents. I was like; “If acting is like this all the time, I will be an actor forever, because I’m going to get a bunch of presents.” So it is sort of like that now… No, I’m just joking! Once I started going more frequently, I realized this was something I could pursue. The classes I went to were improv-heavy, which I became quite good at. Eventually, I got an agent, started auditioning and then, booked a show- badabingbadaboom!
What is your dream role?
Difficult! I usually like to take to scripts as they come. I think my dream role would be something I would also be a producer on, because I would both have freedom in front of the camera and behind it. But also, a superhero movie! I think that is the classic 18-year old actor’s response. A superhero role would be sick!
Who is your favourite superhero?
I’ve read a lot of Miles Morales comics recently, a superhero that might be coming up from Marvel soon. He is a very cool version of Spider-Man. He is like Spider-Man, but he is black and has some extra powers: invisibility and energy shooter.
You mentioned a love of literature previously, what is your favourite book?
I can’t pick a single book. My favourite series is probably the Aragon series. It’s fantastic! Favourite individual book from that series is probably 'The Eldest'.
I read your Defend Our Future piece on the MIC website about the EPA, what do you think our role as individuals is when we are up against powerful, political players?
* Under Cough * Donald Trump. We definitely have a very important role to play in this situation. Under the Obama administration we were moving in the right direction, but right now, obviously we’re not, with Trump dissolving the EPA. In the Defend Our Future article, I wrote about a time when there was a thick layer of smog covering Los Angeles, which through EPA regulations, improved. We have a really important role as individuals because as the dominant species, it’s up to us to not abuse this power for no good reason. It’s just insane to me. We have the power to change, which I think a lot of people are realizing right now. For instance, March For Our Lives has truly showcased the power of the people. A group of individuals can really make a push when they unite as a people. We can use these movements to enact change in our government officials.
2018 is a strong year.
I agree - it is a strong year. It’s time to move forward.
When and where do you feel most at ease?
I love Hawaii so much and I definitely feel most at ease there. Haha, I sound like I have a freaking resort out there. I don’t go there that often. I’ve been there like three times, but every time I go, it’s amazing. I feel at ease in my own home. Also - at the cinema - I love watching films.
How would you visualize falling in love?
I feel it’s like a filter. You know when you turn up the saturation of a photo? That’s what it feels like to me.
In another interview you spoke about college applications, have you heard anything back?
I received acceptance letters from UCLA, USC, Pepperdine, Columbia and UC Berkeley. I don’t even know where I’m going yet, but it’s always been a top two between UCLA and USC. We’ll tour some colleges again: sort of like a FINAL COUNTDOWN! I’m not sure what I will study yet, possibly psychology or African American studies.
Go with your gut feeling. What’s next in terms of acting?
I have a few projects in the works, some of which are voice-over projects. Auditioning a lot. Hopefully producing some personal work.
Black-ish airs on ABC.